The Coke Lesson

I think we can all agree that Coca-Cola is one of the most successful companies in the world. It does a lot right and is definitely worth looking to for some guidance when it comes to running a business. I recently learned something about Coca-Cola that makes me respect the company even more.

The company has and makes a gazillion dollars a year and certainly can afford to give away stuff to promote its business, and it does exactly that. Coca-Cola gives away t-shirts, cups, napkins, glasses… you name it, Coca-Cola can usually be convinced to donate products to charities or to give away at promotional events.

Well, that is they give away everything except for one thing: Coke itself.

Coke, the drink, is the company’s product and Coca-Cola never, ever gives it away. Ever. Why? Because it is the company’s product. The company is wise enough to know that if you give away your product, you reduce its value, and that is bad business. There are a ton of drinks out there. Coca-Cola has plenty of competitors in the market–from Pepsi to small local soft drink makers and beyond. And yet it doesn’t undercut itself by giving away its product.

Think about that the next time someone asks you to make your work for free or, more accurately, asks to use your work for free. Your product is your photography/illustrations/writing or, more specifically for most of you, your product is the licenses you grant that permit your clients to use your work. If you give away the use (or if you lower your price without getting something of value in exchange) you have just devalued your product. You can’t expect a buyer to buy your product (especially not at full price) if you are willing to give it away. Ever.

So, the next guru who says you have to give it away needs to be shown the door. You can give stuff away, but it better not be your product. Give away anything else to build relationships with your clients, but not your product.

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